Rapper Kanye West is certainly no stranger to controversy. Who could forget his interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards or his appearance on a 2006 Rolling Stone cover in a crown of thorns. However, since the arrival of baby North and the nuptials to reality starlet Kim Kardashian, many people assumed that Kanye might have set aside his wooden spoon, taken his foot firmly out of his mouth and started walking a more careful line with the press and the public. Well, if you were one of those people then you’re probably feeling a little foolish right now as in the most recent of his so-very-public blunders West has managed to insult someone in a wheelchair and in doing so has once again become a trending topic on Twitter.
The rapper is currently on tour in Australia and the incident took place during a gig in Sydney when West allegedly stopped the entire show and demanded that two concertgoers who were not standing get to their feet. After some rather tense waiting, it was confirmed to West that actually the two people he was demanding stand up physically couldn’t do so and so the show went on with the two fans still in their seats (and presumably rather traumatised). The incident has now been dubbed ‘wheelchair-gate’ and, thanks to going viral on Twitter, has been reported in just about every gossip rag around the globe as well as some of the more cerebral media publications. However, there is some uncertainty as to what was actually said and perhaps a hint that the media might have just run with a story taken from tweets that isn’t entirely accurate. The source of this uncertainty is West’s wife who posted on her Instagram account that “Kanye never asked anyone in a wheel chair to stand up & the audience videos show that. He asked for everyone to stand up & dance UNLESS they were in a wheel chair.”
Whatever really occurred, in a rather painful lesson in the power of social media, by the time the story had made its way off Twitter it was already set in the public mindset as West’s wheelchair rant and denials are proving pretty ineffective in the wake of the wave of retweets and the #WheelchairGate hashtag (which is still going). Kanye West could donate all of his fortune to a disabled charity at this point and he probably still wouldn’t be able to undo the damage those few words did on stage in Australia thanks to the Chinese Whispers effect of Twitter and the power of the smartphone.
Although most of us don’t have access to the kind of public forum that Kanye West does – and are hopefully cautious enough to avoid the level of snafus that he regularly makes – this is a perfect illustration of the power of social media sharing. It’s also a warning how in this age of smartphone technology, if you’re getting up on a stage (or even sometimes if you’re not), then anyone can record you, share that recording or tweet about what you’re doing. Something to bear in mind if you don’t want to become the subject of a hashtag.